Egypt Takes Credit for Peace Talks

EGYPT, long ostracized by other Arab states for its separate peace of 1979, is now playing broker to a wider Arab-Israeli peace.According to Egyptian officials, these efforts are an extension of the peace process carried out by then-President Jimmy Carter, Israel's Menachim Begin, and the late Anwar Sadat. "The [peace] process was there, laying in abeyance until the Syrian response," said a senior Foreign Ministry official. "The Syrian response came through intensive consultations with us. With it the process has probably been relaunched." In recent weeks, Egyptian diplomats have carried out a flurry of diplomatic contacts, to support US peace proposals. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in the first state visit of an Egyptian leader to London, told reporters Wednesday that he was optimistic that Arab-Israeli peace talks might get under way, Reuters reports. He urged Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to "be more flexible." Former Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, now secretary-general of the Arab League, arrived in Jordan Wednesday for talks on an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, following stopovers in Syria and Lebanon. Usama al-Baz, senior political advisor to President Mubarak, held talks in Libya last Sunday while Algeria's foreign minister came to Cairo the previous week. Egypt has also carried out low-profile talks with Palestinian representatives since March. "This is something which has been worked upon for a lengthy period of time" Mr. Baz said. "We have been engaging the Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Gulf states, and the north Africans." Government sources also say Syrian President Hafez al-Assad will visit Cairo later this month. "Now you have an Arab position which accepts the two-track approach; an approach based on the trade of land for peace, the terms of reference of any settlement being [UN resolutions] 242 and 338," said Baz. "And finally an Arab position which calls for endorsement of the call for a moratorium on the [economic] boycott of Israel in exchange for a moratorium on the building of Israeli settlements," he said. Syria, the most implacable of Israel's enemies, has said it is ready to have face-to-face talks with the nation so long referred to as "the Zionist entity." Meanwhile, as Washington awaits Israel's reply to its most recent talks proposal, officials in the Middle East have begun to draw comparisons with the mood of the late 1970s, when Egyptian and Israeli negotiators embarked on their first round of talks. Those meetings led, in 1979, to the only peace treaty between an Arab state and Israel. The Camp David agreement saw the return of the Sinai Peninsula, captured by Israel in the 1967 war and the opening of full relations between Egypt and Israel. AS senior Egyptian officials now recall, those first meetings were fraught with tension. The international community saw only televised briefings by senior statesmen and heads of government. There was a sense of history in the making. In Cairo and Jerusalem, the men who took part remember the assault of wire-tap and security experts on hotel rooms. "They broke walls down. They cut wires," said one now-senior Egyptian official who took part in the Camp David peace talks. Israel sent the first team of negotiators to Cairo in December 1977. Throughout the talks the Israeli delegates stayed at the five-star Mena House Hotel at the foot of the Giza pyramids. The luxury hotel rooms were "somewhat rearranged" the official said. Later when an Egyptian team traveled to Jerusalem, the process was repeated. "They started it. We responded to it," he said with a laugh. The Egyptians even went one better, targeting the floors as well. "This was done by the intelligence people, to check for [listening] devices and also to install our own telephone system, our own cipher machines," the official said. "We didn't have any residency but the hotels. Our people had to be secure." Of the current efforts he said: "We are passing through a period that resembles 1977, 1978, and 1979, where the stage is being set for an intense effort to launch negotiations, finally." Government officials here consider peace only a matter of time. Said one, "The stage has been set and the pressures are building up. The Israelis will have to give in to the notion of dialogue and to the exchange of land for peace."

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